Rules of Business Correspondence

by Christa Haynes; Updated September 26, 2017
The means of business communications have changed, but not all the basic rules.

In today's world, you can communicate professionally using several methods. It is important to know the rules of proper business correspondence for letters, emails and greeting cards. Small mistakes can make the difference between impressing the person who receives your correspondence and offending him. Also, it's helpful to know when an email will suffice versus a typed letter or handwritten note.

Traditional Letters

Print traditional letters on letterhead using a heavier or textured stock. The letterhead should include the name, address, phone number and email address of the sender. If letterhead is not available or the letter is personal, the proper title for the person or persons sending the letter should appear at the top left corner. For example, if you and your spouse are sending a letter of complaint to a business, include the following:

Mr. and Mrs. John A. Doe 123 Main St. Anywhere, USA 555-555-5555 thedoes@email.com

Next, list the recipient of your correspondence and the address at the left margin. The name and address should be formal, including his titles and designations.

The date comes next in the spelled format, for example: June 23, 2010. Under the date, include a line referencing the subject matter of the letter, using the form "RE: (reference)."

The greeting is next and should reflect your relationship with the party. If you are on a first-name basis, greet her with "Dear" and include her first name. If the letter is going to a department or an unknown recipient, use "Dear Sirs" or "Dear Sir or Madam:" or even "To Whom It May Concern."

All business letters should close formally. The best choice for a professional ending is simply "Sincerely" or "Best Regards." Avoid frilly endings.

Handwritten notes

A handwritten note is appropriate in many business situations, such as thank-yous, congratulations for achievements such graduations, family births, promotions and condolences.

The envelope should include the formal name and address of the recipient. Your return address should appear on the back of the envelope, although it can go in the upper left corner of the front.

The card should include a familiar greeting based on your relationship. If you are on a first-name basis, use the first name. If not, choose a respectful greeting that fits the sentiment.

Keep the body of the note short and write or print neatly in blue or black ink. If you do not have decent handwriting, find someone who does.

Get to the point. If you are saying thank you, choose a phrase or two that reminds the recipient what you are thanking her for, but don't get too detailed. If you are congratulating someone, include what for and, if appropriate, how you received the information. If a client's engagement was in the newspaper, for example, clip the announcement and include it with the card or reference it in your note.

End the note with "Sincerely." Sign the letter with your formal name and title if you are less familiar with the recipient. If you are more familiar, your first name is appropriate.

Email

Email presents a new subject of debate for business communication manners. The first rule is to know that your recipient accepts or prefers email correspondence.

Present a respectable email profile. Your address and the subject line should be identifiable and reflect your business or professional status. For example, if you are sending email to clients, it should be "johndoe@mybusiness.com" instead of "doefamily1987@bigmail.com."

There is no need for an inside address as with traditional letters, so begin with the greeting, which should reflect your relationship with the recipient and be as formal as possible. A common business email faux pas is the lack of a simple greeting, which tells the recipient that the email is intended for him.

Do not use an email to resolve a business issue that should be handled in person. Avoid email confrontations, and remember that emails live forever on hard drives and servers and can be used in court.

Avoid rambling in business emails. If you must include many details, create a document for them and attach it instead of putting them in the body of the email.

Avoid emoticons, computer slang, exclamation marks or question marks more than once, and caps lock. If you have doubts about the content or format, try printing it on letterhead and evaluating its professionalism. If it doesn't seem professional on paper, it is not professional in an email.

Make the closing professional with "Thank You" or "Sincerely." Your business and contact information should go in your email signature. A scanned or otherwise electronically formatted signature is acceptable. If you normally use a quote, tagline or other information, evaluate how appropriate it is for business situations.

About the Author

Christa Haynes began freelance writing in 2005 by conributing features to "New Mexico Woman Magazine" on a variety of topics relating to women's issues in the workplace. As a professional in the financial services industry for more than 10 years, Haynes obtained a Life Underwriting Training Council Fellowship and is a recipient of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Services Quality Award.

Photo Credits